Summed up perfectly by their ‘Off The Wall’ tagline, Vans were renowned from the beginning for their playful antics and goofball attitude. So, is it actually a surprise that they manufactured clown shoes? When you understand where the Van Doren Rubber Company began, you soon realise that anything goes when trying to build your name from scratch in the footwear industry.
The first incarnation of Vans' clown shoes was produced for Squeaky the Clown. Squeaky was part of the Van Dorens' in-store promos and grand openings, responsible for making balloon animals and keeping kids entertained. Word about the Vans jester sneaks quickly got around the Californian clown scene and soon it wasn’t just Squeaky repping the brand.
Initially, Vans’ generic style #24 high tops in size 16 were beloved by pro-bozos, but, moving into the 70s, clowns wanted even bigger shoes. Sparked by an employee with a clown fetish, Vans began producing a low-top, super-wide shoe called the Flapper. They weren't vulcanised like the classic Made in USA waffles — instead, they used cold cure compounds most often bonded to full-grain leather uppers in all combinations of colourways.
You may be picturing a Mini Minor pulling up outside the Vans factory and hundreds of clowns climbing out to the sound of The Beatles' Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, but we're still talking about a relatively small-scale operation here. That said, when Vans created high-top options and invited clowns to bring their own materials for custom shoes (even Ronald McDonald himself came knocking) it was clear that they’d made it. And it was lucrative to boot.
At a time when Vans’ deck shoes were being sold at $10, a three-tone leather high-top clown shoe cost $60 and remained the most expensive piece of footwear Vans were to produce during the handmade era. The clown shoes actually featured a style #44 (Authentic) deck shoe embedded within — a shoelusion!
Vans made clown shoes for roughly 14 years and it’s really anyone’s guess how many they made. How far would you go for a pair of OG three-tone checkerboard Flappers?
Words: Henry Davies
Photos: Ravi Sidhu